Abhyanga 101: How to Practice Ayurvedic Self Oil Massage


Chances are if you’ve ever worked with an Ayurvedic coach or practitioner you have heard the word “abhyanga” being thrown around. Abhyanga is the traditional ayurvedic practice of self oil massage. Ayurveda repeatedly reminds us of the importance of self care and abhyanga is one of the most luxurious self care practices there it.

What is Abhyanga and why does Ayurveda love it? 

Abhyanga is the practice of rubbing warm oil over your whole body. It’s a little giggle-worthy at first, but trust me, it’s worth a try. According to Ayurvedic theory this practice is nourishing to all 3 doshas, but most specifically grounding to Vata. It’s also an important practice to be done during the fall and winter because they are considered to be vata seasons.  Abhyanga is believed to:

  1. improve circulation and lymphatic flow, beneficial for both detoxification and immunity;
  2. lubricate the joints, say sayonara to snaps, crackles, and pops when you roll out your mat;
  3. settle your nervous system, goodbye anxiety and hello restful sleep;
  4. hydrate and soften skin, not going to need that expensive wrinkle cream anymore.

Here’s How to Practice Abhyanga:

  1. Start by warming the abhyanga oil. I like to warm mine by placing the glass jar in boiling water — whatever you do please don’t microwave the oil!
  2. Lay out an old towel on the bathroom floor and strip down to your birthday suit.
  3. Ayurveda recommends that you start at your feet and move up to your head. Starting at the feet give yourself an oily foot rub. Make sure to get all 10 toes, bottoms of the feet, ankles, all of it! Then start to move your way up the legs. As you rub the oil into your skin (just like you would lotion) use long strokes up the limbs and circular motions on the joints. As you rub oil onto the legs and arms think about massaging in the direction toward your heart.
  4. When you get to your stomach rub the oil in clockwise circular motions.
  5. Gently give yourself a scalp massage with the warm oil (your hair will be so soft the following day!). You can lightly rub oil on your face, neck, even inside the ears and nose.
  6. Once your whole body is lathered, let the oil sink into the skin for about 20 minutes. This is a great time to pull up your favorite guided meditation and settle in.
  7. After about 20 minutes take a warm shower to remove any excess oil on the top of the skin.  Don’t scrub or loofa here, just gently rinse. Most oils have gentle anti-microbial properties so you don’t need any soap on top of the oil. After you’ve removed the oil towel off and bask in all the self love you just gave yourself!

What type of oil is right for me?

For abhyanga you want to use organic food grade oils because Ayurveda teaches us that everything you put on your skin will be ingested into your body. Once you find an oil you love, you can stick with it year round (this is my personal fave all year long) or switch it up with the seasons. General rule of thumb for oils is as follows:

  • Winter: use a heavy and warming oil like refined sesame oil or a vata massage oil.
  • Spring: use a neutral oil such as almond oil, sunflower oil or kapha massage oil.
  • Summer: use a cooling oil like coconut oil or pitta massage oil. The summer is the one time of the year when abhyanga may be less desirable, it’s ok to skip it!
  • Fall: use a neutral oil like sunflower or almond oil. Once it starts to get cold and windy switch to sesame oil or a vata massage oil. 

If you’d like a more personalized oil recommendation schedule an Ayurvedic health coaching session to learn more about your unique constitution.

Now that you’ve made it this far — what are you waiting for? Grab some oil and try it out! Make sure to comment below and let me know your experience.

  1. […] you’ve learned your dosha you can incorporate Ayurvedic practices such as Abhyanga into your daily […]

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    Lillian Jacobs

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    BASED IN LOS Angeles, 

    Ayurvedic health coaching

    Lillian Jacobs

    Ayurvedic Health Coaching